Question: What’s the best way to deal with critical customers?

Answers from frontline reps —


Search for the customer’s needs. Be sure to stay calm and try to be positive. If a customer is raising their voice don’t raise yours to match them but lower yours so theirs comes down so you can be heard, low and slow. Leaving personal feelings out of conversation will allow you to focus on the reason the customer is upset and guide the conversation toward a resolution.

Listening seems obvious, but many times we only listen to respond. When a customer is upset there are usually underlying reasons. They could be having a bad day or family issues are causing them to lash out. While listening to the customer’s needs and requests try to putting yourself in their shoes. Many times critical customers just need to vent, whether it be an issue of miscommunication, a bad day, or a wrong order. Knowing someone took the time to listen to them and make an attempt to understand how and why they feel the way they do is all a customer is looking for.

— Johanna Lieurance, Navy Federal Credit Union


Listen carefully. A customer may be critical, but we don’t know immediately the reason why. Listen to your customer. Listen to what they say and even to what they don’t say. Sometimes to get to the root of the issue, it’s more about what the customer doesn’t tell you than what they do. Take those unsaid comments and use those to “Wow” them. This will help you make the connection with the customer that they need and prove to them that you are there to assist in any way possible.

It’s easy to get lost in the emotions of the customer when they are being critical, but keep in mind it is not directed at you personally. Try keeping your voice low and steady. If you begin to get loud or your voice is strained it can cause the customer to go from critical to escalated. Keep the interaction with the customer calm and even.

— Rachel Dillon, Assurant Specialty Property


Head off criticism. Ask questions so that you know exactly what the customer wants. Then there isn’t any room for confusion or grievance over unmet expectations. It’s not as if you lose anything by asking questions, not even time, as not having to guess or go back and ask again actually saves you time as well as a whole lot of frustration in the end.

— Jo Sprowl, SKF USA Inc.


Have a plan. I have dealt with customers who were critical of my company, my coworkers, and of me. In these situations, I follow three rules:

  1. Don’t take the criticism personally. Just stay focused on understanding the underlying problem and providing a resolution.
  2. Don’t pile on. Never disparage the company or spread blame. You can certainly agree that a situation is frustrating, but then move on to a solution.
  3. Pass it on. Sometime criticism is valid and in these cases I bring up customer comments at our weekly team meetings, where we talk about steps for improvement.

— Kim Shapell, Welter & Kreutz

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